After a decade in MMA, Gilbert Melendez happy to finally say: 'Yes, I fight UFC now'

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

As current Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez eagerly awaits his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debut in 2013, one of the things he is most excited for is the right to say he "fights UFC."

Tim Kennedy is "sad," Josh Barnett is eager to "wreck shop" and Nate Marquardt is looking forward to a title unification bout as Strikeforce is set to power down its mixed martial arts (MMA) operation for good this Saturday night (Jan. 12, 2013) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

With the Strikeforce: "Marquardt vs. Saffiedine" event only a few days away, there are plenty of mixed emotions floating around from all of the promotion's most recognizable stars. And as the sand of the hour glass almost reaches bottom, Gilbert Melendez -- the Strikeforce lightweight champion -- has a few of his own, too.

After ruling the promotion's 155-pound division for the last three years as one of the organizations poster boys, "El Nino" is bummed at seeing the company go away; however, he too looks forward to the next chapter in his fighting career, which includes a guaranteed spot on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster.

Plus, a potential immediate title shot may also be a sure-fire cure for those lingering blues.

Speaking to Sherdog, Melendez talked about his time competing for Strikeforce, as well as revealed one of the things he looks forward to the most once he steps foot inside the Octagon ... and it has nothing to do with fighting for a championship.

His words:

"A lot of mixed emotions with Strikeforce going down. I fought in the very first MMA Strikeforce card, I hold a lot of records there, I'm the champ there and I really appreciate what Scott Coker's done. But, you know, also a new chapter in my life and it looks like my next fight will be in the UFC and that is exciting for me as well. So, I am pretty excited."

Whether or not "El Nino" actually receives a title shot in his debut for the promotion, he is happy that after a decade-long fight career, he can finally say something he's never been able to say:

"Yes it does (mean a lot to me), I can finally say that. So when people tell me, "Yo, you fight UFC?" I can finally say, "Yes, I fight UFC now." For a minute that was a hard question to answer, but, I think that might be the most rewarding thing about it."

After competing for various MMA promotions all over the world, including Pride FC, Strikeforce and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), Melendez will finally get his chance to prove he does indeed belong at the top of the lightweight rankings by testing his skills against the very best the UFC has to offer.

Even though, he would love nothing more than to fight current champion Ben Henderson and seek some revenge for his "homie" Nate Diaz -- who was battered for five rounds by ‘"Smooth" at UFC on Fox 5 this past December -- for now, the Cesar Gracie-trained fighter is just happy he's finally a "UFC fighter."

And he's likely not the only fighter left on the Strikeforce roster who shares that sentiment.

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